Putting a pinch of salt on your chips makes them taste better than before. And putting a second pinch of salt on makes them taste even better.
Putting a tablespoon of salt on your chips, however, doesn’t make them taste even better again. It renders them inedible.
Why? Because quantities matter. Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.
Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
“Scaling” something up merely means to make it larger than it was before.
This could mean blowing a photograph up to twice its original size so that it can be seen from further away, cooking an extra large chilli so that you can feed more people, or hiring more staff – with more people on the job you can process orders quicker and grow your business.
The thing with scaling though, is that there is almost always a knock-on effect.
Ships, printing presses, and atomic bombs
Scattered throughout human history are some key moments where it all of a sudden things that had previously scaled up slowly scaled up incredibly rapidly, and what always happened next was that the world was changed dramatically.
From the 14th century onwards, the increasing size and reliability of naval technology made it more possible than ever to travel to, trade with, and conquer, the far reaches of the globe. Cue modern colonisation.
In 1439, Gutenberg’s printing press made it possible to reproduce the written world at scale, enabling – amongst other things – peasants to read the bible for the first time. Cue the Reformation.
On August 6th 1945, the US proved to the world that something no larger than a traditional bomb could now wipe out an entire city. Cue the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War.
Just because something can be scaled doesn’t mean it should.
What are you trying to accomplish?
Answer that first, and then look at the different parts of your operation that it’s possible to scale up.
Scaling up the right things gives you more time and energy each day with which to focus on the critical parts of what you do – the parts that you and only you can do. It helps to eliminate annoying distractions, and reduces genuine waste.
But scaling up the wrong things – whilst possibly making you incredibly successful in a worldly sense – could kill the very goose that lays the golden egg. In a search for more, more, more, you might inadvertently destroy the very essence of what it is you’re doing. And if that’s gone, what’s the point?
If all that matters to you is making a profit, for example, then the modern world offers you untold avenues for scaling up. You can buy influence, you can lobby governments, you can cut your production costs by exploiting sweatshop workers who have no choice…
That doesn’t mean you should, though.
If you’re trying to do something different than that, something better, something with a little more to it, something richer, something deeper…
Embrace and enable your humanity
We are entering a technological age where it is becoming more and more possible – and more and more critical – to treat each other properly. To acknowledge that we’re all in this shit together – this weird and wonderful gift called life. We are able to do this because machines can and will do more and more of the menial tasks traditionally performed by humans. The point of scaling up technology is to enable our humanity, not to destroy it.
Some things benefit from being streamlined, made more efficient, scaled up… but not our humanity. We need to be free to express, to learn, to grow. And we can’t do that if we’re constantly trying to measure ourselves against arbitrary standards, or do this thing faster, or do this other thing more efficiently.
Human beings weren’t designed for the efficiency computers were designed for. Let the computers do what they do. And let yourself be a human, warts and all.
Your inherent humanity is the goose that is laying the golden eggs. Don’t kill it. Enable it.